Housing report

Councilwoman Castillo responds to controversial housing report: ‘We need to do better as a city’

Reactions to a new report indicating that San Antonio is releasing and demolishing old housing stock at a rate several thousand percent faster than other major cities in Texas – often displacing people of color from family homes and often without procedure regular – were fast. Some residents felt validated, and city staff persisted in their position that the report contained many flaws and was at times “intended to inflame, not inform.”

The report titled “Evicted: Displacing City of San Antonio Residents Through Code Enforcement Actions” showed that the city issued 1,000 orders to evacuate and demolish single-family homes, and 626 of them were occupied – against a total of 16 orders between Houston, Dallas Austin and Fort Worth.

“The study corroborates what we’ve heard from communities with the increasing number of demolitions and the need for wrap-around services,” said Teri Castillo, councilor for District 5 – the area with one of the highest numbers of building orders. evacuation and demolition.

In a memo to city staff, city council and mayor Michael Shannon, the head of the Department of Developmental Services, said the report was out of line when it said city staff were targeting communities. of color.

“Suggesting that enforcing the code consciously ‘targets’ people of color or that the wrecking order process is comparable to a nefarious federal practice [redlining] designed to exclude people of color is irresponsible, Shannon said.

But Castillo’s office said his community felt targeted by the code’s enforcement. In amendments to the office budget, he called for added staff members in Shannon’s department who could do more for landlords and ease those frustrations.

Members of Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, the Historic Westside Residents Association and others said they raised the issue with council and staff and asked for help to slow single-family home demolitions, but did not received little or no response.

Part of the reason these low-income areas received so much attention, Castillo said, was that code enforcement officers were funded by US Housing and Urban Development, which required them to be in the low-income zip codes for blight reduction. His office requested that these positions be replaced with positions funded from the general funds, which would allow them greater geographic flexibility.

Evacuation and demolition orders are used to demolish unsafe structures, but other code enforcement actions, such as overgrown yards and non-lethal objects, can trigger a downward spiral. An overgrown court citation can mean several hundred dollars in fines.

“And what that means for my constituency is that they don’t pay for their utilities, right. So they don’t pay for water or light. And the next step with that when your light and water aren’t on is a code compliance violation. And that’s a notice of cancellation of infringement. So it’s a ripple effect,” Castillo said.

Castillo echoed concerns raised by the report that criticized how the home demolition process currently works. Castillo said residents often don’t receive enough information about their options or rights. The report blamed the city for breaking the law by not offering relocation assistance – offering only eight out of 209 people who received furlough orders between 2018 and 2020.

Castillo was also concerned about accusations in the report that hundreds of property owners had not been heard from before receiving evacuation or demolition orders.

More money for programs that invest in the homes of people who can’t afford to fix them to code is what’s needed, Castillo added. The city must “mitigate” the displacement of residents from their property by reducing the number of ongoing demolitions.

“Our most affordable housing stock is our existing housing stock,” she explained.

San Antonio is moving in that direction. Castillo pointed to millions of additional dollars in various programs to help poor and elderly homeowners make critical fixes to their homes, including $1.5 million for a demolition prevention pilot program. Other report suggestions generated by Office of Historic Preservation reports and suggested by Castillo’s office were not used. For example, his office proposed a budget amendment that would have added two positions in Development Services that were code enforcement case managers.

The city is currently in the process of developing a landmark bond proposal to invest $150 million in affordable housing, with rehabilitation of existing homes to receive significant additional funding.

About 95,000 San Antonio residents are spending more than 30% on their housing costs, which is considered “cost burdened” and real estate appraisals and costs continue to rise.

In addressing the controversial report, the city disputed its accuracy, saying it contains several flaws, including drawing comparisons for evacuation and demolition orders from different programs.

“In short, the report itself demonstrates that conclusions are reached by comparing apples to oranges,” Shannon said in a memo sent to city council members, the mayor and numerous staff members. TPR reviewed the memo.

Heather Way, the author of the report, disagreed. She told TPR’s “The Source” that they sat down with code enforcement officials in different cities and looked at their data and found that, unlike San Antonio, the programs are used much less.

“It has to be a very extreme case where they are at immediate risk of endangerment that we are going to force them out of this house,” she said. Way is also co-director of the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic at the University of Texas Law School.

The report could influence next Tuesday’s housing bond committee meeting, which is packed with passionate advocates for affordable housing. The committee only has two more meetings before the recommendations are forwarded to the board.